Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Naturally Useful

Growing up plants were a huge part of my life. I would often collect nuts, fungus flowers and other plants to use for many purposes. One of my earliest memories was at my great grandparents house. They had a small farm in Jamesville New York. I remember it distinctly. This is how I remember things. Mind you I might have been 5 our younger when we visited. My great grandparents had a huge black walnut tree in their front yard. We could take old onion and potato sacks and fill them up with the walnuts. We would bring them into the small blue farm kitchen that had a painted brick wall over one of those free standing metal sinks. The bricks were painted with a vase and flowing long stems of flowers coming out of it. Around the table was a classic Formica table with my Great Grandmother who was in a wheel chair, my tiny old Great Grandfather and Uncle Ike. We were all kept warm with a huge wrought iron wood burning kitchen stove. I remember my great grandmother loving Brown Eyed Susan’s and picking her a hand full for her 85th birthday. My mother made cakes back then and had made her a red cake with white lace pattern on it.

I was always the one picking flowers. My grandmother on my mom’s side also had a very old farmhouse in New Woodstock, NY. The front patio was the foundation of a part of the house that no longer existed. It was made of old stones and concrete. There were foot prints from when my mom aunts and uncles were very little and left them in there. There was a small dent that always filled with water and made a little puddle that I was told the baby ducks used to swim in. Part of it had been turned into a flower bed and had interesting rocks my grandmother had collected over the years. Holly hawks, tall yellow flowers and bamboo surrounded the old porch. It created a sanctuary. Some of my earliest lessons about seed collection came from this porch. My grandmother showed me the circular seed pods of the holly hawks and taught me how to save them, dry them and spread them in a new garden. The rest of the gardens in the yard were surrounded with the same round stones that made up the porch. In one was a huge metal basin. I think it was used in a mill but I can not remember. This was surrounded by tulips, daffodils and grape hyacinths. As soon as the first tulip would bloom I would notoriously pick it and that always ticked my grandmother off. By the shed were money plants. The seed pods from these were often dried and found with dried bull thistles in vases around the house. Chinese Lantern seed pods were also a favorite to dry.

In all of our houses were drawings done on shelf fungus. This is a bracket Fungus found in any woods in Upstate New York that has a bark like side and a soft fleshy white side. The white side can be scratched into with a stick and when dried the untouched area stays cream colored and the drawing becomes dark brown. When ever we went for a hike if one was found it became our own organic drawing pad. Other things collected and placed in the house were huge paper hornets nests, birds nests, home made terrariums rocks, fossils, shells and dried cat tails. My grandmother worked as a lunch lady and would acquire huge glass mayo jars that she would fill with native mosses and small plants. They would create their own eco systems in the mayo glass terrariums. They were mysterious as I gazed at the plants through the splotchy drops of condensation.

I was a huge collector of dried flowers. One of my all time favorites was Blue Vervain. It is a herb and smell fantastic when dried. I would often mix it in with a white and pink knotweed that also dried well. Queen Ann’s lace was a great flower to dry as well. I was told it was called that because Queen Ann was working on a lace piece when she was told bad news. She pricked her self with the needle leaving a small drop of blood in the center of the lace. That is why the flower has two small red blossoms in the center of it. The back yard of my grandmother’s house had antique pink roses and lilies. A friend taught me that the base of the lily blossoms had sweet nectar that was good to taste. We also sampled nectar from the base of clover flowers.

I had a small plastic farm animal set that I really enjoyed playing with. I did not have a barn to go with it but this was not an issue. I made stick and moss barns. I would take small sticks that branched off into a Y and set them in the dirt. I would place sticks in each of the Y’s and then find a big flat piece of moss to rest on top as the roof. Small pebbles would make the miniature field stone fences and paths. These small moss farms would have fire pits with a spit and small stacks of fire wood. They would have barns, houses stables and fences. It would take most of an afternoon to make and worth every second.

My grandmother and I would often find eatables in the woods as well. We would eat wild raspberries, black berries, wild mushrooms, wild leeks and chives. There were old foundations around the property where someone had planted rhubarb and currents. They came back every year and we would use them to make jelly and pies. There was even a white grape vine that grew on an old swing set that grape juice was made out of. I was always told the grapes were ready after the third frost. In a lower part of the yard that was often wet my grandfather grew his own asparagus. That also came up year after year.

All of these plants I gathered were fundamental to life. The land brought me hours of joy. The natural works is far superior to the one we engineer. I feel people are moving back to these times. They are realizing that the creator got it right the first time and we are trying to salvage what is natural from what we have tampered with. Enjoy your walks and be sure to give thanks for everything you take in or harvest for your self.

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